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Australian cross-country skier takes long road to Sapporo


17 Feb 2017
Sapporo, Japan, February 17, 2017: From rural Australia, then north to Alaska and now Sapporo, few athletes have travelled as far and sacrificed as much to chase their dreams as Casey Wright, Australia’s lone female cross-country skier at the Asian Winter Games. Just 22, she left her family and the bright sunshine and golden beaches of her homeland, for a new life in icy Alaska, dedicating herself to one of the most unforgiving sports in the world.

Cross-country skiing is not for the faint hearted. A gruelling, lung-bursting sport, elite athletes drive themselves to the point of exhaustion every day, competing and training in extreme conditions, often for little reward. “You have to be a certain breed of person to do well in a sport like this,” Wright explained. “We’re all a little bit crazy.

“You’ve got to be physically and mentally strong to push through the pain barrier because in cross-country skiing, when you enter that hurt box, you stay in it anything from 20 minutes to a couple of hours.” Wright made the 12,000 kilometre move from her family home near Melbourne to Alaska at the end of 2015 after realising she needed to take her training to a new level if she wanted to achieve her ultimate goal of competing at the Winter Olympics.

She had already represented Australia at junior and senior world championships and endured nine consecutive winters, travelling to the northern hemisphere during each Australian summer, but set her sights on moving to North America after discovering some universities offered scholarships for cross-country skiers.

“That was kind of when I made the decision that’s where I want to be at,” she said. “But it was kind of hard to convince them that an Australian could ski. “The initial reaction was that they didn’t have any spots so I got turned down, and it wasn’t until September 2015 that my coach contacted me and said they have a spot for me in Alaska. By December, I was there.”

Wright took up a scholarship at the University of Alaska Anchorage, majoring in health science, and joining nine others on the Seawolves’ cross-country ski team. In Australia she trained mostly just with her brother but it quickly became apparent that being part of an elite squad in Alaska was a whole new experience, and not just because the training and competition was harder.

“There’s a lot of novelties that haven’t worn off, like seeing squirrels run out in front of us when we’re training,” she said. “And moose too. It’s really common to see them in training, or even in the streets, or wandering around campus. “But then things like roller skiing training are normal. In Australia, people looked at me like I was some sort of crazy chick, but over there it’s just nothing different.

“The best things is being on the team. We have become close friends. And I have developed so much  and learnt so much from them, by continuously being put out of my comfort zone.” Although the Australian athletes at the Asian Winter Games won’t be eligible to win medals, Wright believes the experience of competing in Sapporo will go a long way to helping her achieve her dream of qualifying for the Winter Olympics.

She admits she knew little about the Asian Winter Games until hearing that the Olympic Council of Asia had agreed to let athletes from Oceania compete for the first time, but has been blown by the scale of the eventand is now a huge fan.

“It’s much bigger than what I was expecting,” she said. “I’d never been to Asia before so it’s just a great opportunity to ski in a different place against world class athletes and I’m sure this will really raise the profile in Australia.”
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